Players in a Socio-Ecological Transformation? Industrial Workers and Unions on the Environment

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Jana FLEMMING, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany
Unions are made up of members who, in their mode of living, rely on and profit from global value chains. These value chains function at the expense of the health and quality of life of the workers themselves and produce environmental destruction. That is, the "ecological crisis" is global in scope and "social" as well as "ecological."

German unions see economic growth as a helpful tool that supports the realization of workers' interests in earning higher wages and thus improves quality of life. Thus increased production of environmentally friendly goods, such as electric motors for cars, is seen as a “win-win” strategy for workers and businesses, and also as one pathway for solving the socio-ecological crisis. I suggest that, besides the logic of economic growth and unions' cooperation with state players, cultural norms and values — especially for example the persistence of the cultural logic of the automobile and the automobile industry — have an impact on unionists’ decison making on environmental issues.

I propose that it is not only the mode of production that has to be altered in overcoming the socio-ecological crisis, but also the mode of living. The mode of living is based on workers' every day culture, whose norms and values on environmental issues differ from other social groups. I ask which attitudes of wage workers exceed the limits of the hegemonic way of living, and thus provide a basis for a social-ecological transformation, which might differ from unions' current cultural norms and values.

These attitudes have concrete implications for future union strategies and struggles. I ask which sociocultural reasons hinder and support strategies for a socio-ecological transformation and to what extent industrial workers' attitudes concerning the environment can play a role in such strategies.